Marlins Park, with its retractable roof, spray-painted models and whirling home run statue, won’t be South Florida’s only big-ticket project in the spotlight during All-Star week.
Across Biscayne Bay, Miami Beach’s new-look convention center will transform into a baseball mecca for fans — serving as a stress test as the facility’s first large-scale event since construction began in earnest.
The renovation project, paid for by hundreds of millions of tax dollars, remains a work in progress. The state-of-the-art space will regularly attract “large-scale business, trade, civic and cultural events,” the city boasts.
Major League Baseball’s All-Star FanFest, an interactive festival celebrating “America’s Pastime,” certainly qualifies. The fan experience, dubbed the “world’s largest interactive baseball theme park,” runs from July 7-11 in the convention center’s biggest common space.
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And despite weeks of construction delays because of planning, permitting and design changes, those in charge of the 1.4 million-square-foot facility are confident it will be in working order when the masses descend.
“It really is [a good test],” said Matt Hollander, the facility’s general manager. “This will be the largest audience we will have [to date] in the new renovated areas of the building. It’s a great test of the new systems.”
Hollander continued: “There will be some ‘pardon our dust’ signs because there’s some work on the peripheral. People who come will get a sense that there is still a lot of major renovation work happening, but the area the event is taking place in is absolutely ready to host events.”
The event will be in exhibit halls A and B in the building’s northeast end. Much of the building remains off-limits to the public; the $615 million project, which began in late 2015, is supposed to last until next summer.
But this came as no surprise to Major League Baseball, which reached out to the Marlins for FanFest venue suggestions while planning the All-Star Game. The ball club suggested the convention center, knowing that much work would remain at this point on the calendar.
The city, the league and event organizers were all comfortable that the facility even at half-strength could handle what is expected to be a huge crowd.
History suggests that if Miami Beach builds it, baseball fans indeed will come. Nearly 3 million people have attended FanFest in its 26-year history — or more than 100,000 per year.
This won’t be some stuffy museum. It’s an interactive event, inviting fans to take batting practice, play toss, field grounders and run the bases.
Baseball stars from years past such as Juan Marichal, Andre Dawson, Benito Santiago and Josh Beckett will be on hand to sign autographs, hold clinics and answer questions throughout the week.
Families will come. Baseball die-hards will be there too. And anyone who walks through the front doors will notice a far different convention center than the last time they visited.
While the outside still has the look of a full-blown construction site, much of the interior has been completely transformed, Hollander said.
“We’re excited to welcome thousands of baseball aficionados from across the nation as we host the 2017 All-Star FanFest at the Miami Beach Convention Center,” said Melissa Berthier, a spokeswoman for Miami Beach. “Although the convention center is still actively under construction, this event will be taking place in the two halls that have been completely renovated, providing attendees with a sneak peek of this state-of-the-art building.”
By the time the NFL’s Super Bowl returns to South Florida in early 2020, any bugs should be fixed. The game’s local host committee, led by Rodney Barreto, has already made a deal for Miami Beach for use of the facility, and also secured a funding pledge from the city.
The Super Bowl’s media center and its own fan experience will both be at the convention center — at no charge to the league.
With sparkling new baseball and football stadiums both coming on line in the last five years and Miami’s downtown thriving, Miami Beach could no longer simply assume the big events will come across the MacArthur. The renovations kept South Beach in the game.
“While our appeal has historically centered around the sand and surf, our global brand has expanded beyond the beach,” said publicist Tadd Schwartz, who represents the Downtown Development Authority. “Now we’re home to a thriving urban core with waterfront parks, a growing inventory of hotel rooms, and the state’s best transit network.
Schwartz added: “All-Star Games and Super Bowls are spectacles that transcend the game itself by becoming community gatherings and tourism drivers, and the completion of the Miami Beach Convention Center will be another world-class venue that puts Miami in position to capture the biggest events.”